The concept of airborne wind power and industry is picking up, particularly in Europe. Though the concept is still in its germinating phase, companies like Makani Wind Power, Magenn Power and Joby Energy have built scaled-down models and have conducted a number of tests in this regard. The Department of Defense and ARPA-E (the R&D agency inside the Department of Energy) are examining various atmospheric concepts in this regard.
Joby Energy hopes to launch a 500-kilowatt winged turbine next year that claims to be able to use just 20 tons of material per megawatt, compared to the conventional wind power industry average of 96 tons. Researchers, startups and even some established players are getting serious about harnessing the energy from atmospheric wind.
They will be gathering for a conference at Stanford on September 28 and 29. Speakers at this Airborne Wind Energy Conference will include scientists from Europe and the U.S. national labs, as well as officials from the FAA.
The upper layers of the atmosphere contain as much as 870 terawatts of power. Fewer raw materials need to be used per watt of power, which implies low cost.
Above all, it is said that airborne devices can also function well in a wide variety of geographies because terrestrial obstacles do not interfere nearly as much with the strong winds of the upper atmosphere or jet stream.
Thus it promises to be another inexhaustible source of energy. These new venture include many disadvantages too. Leading to more space junk or space debris is the major challenge. To overcome this problem, Joby Energy wants to build a winged structure arrayed with 14 propellers tethered to the earth with a cord, while Makani Wind Power has envisioned a glider-like wing and have also received some investment funds from Google.
Clarifications regarding the area up to which the airborne device should be deployed, the weight of such devices, and the position of the generator are yet to be answered.